Chiang Mai may not have any of the famous Thailand beaches, but there’s certainly no shortage of fantastic to things to do and placed to see. There’s a bit of everything for visitors in Chiang Mai, ranging from adventure to chill activities as well as something for foodies and history buffs. Take a look at the list of top 10 things to do in Chiang Mai and see what you would pick to experience for yourself!
TOP THINGS TO DO IN CHIANG MAI, THAILAND
1.Hang Out With Elephants – No Riding!
There’s absolutely no reason to ride elephants in Chiang Mai. Not only is it harmful to them, but it can also be dangerous to the rider. Either way, it’s definitely more enjoyable experiencing these animals up close.
Elephant Nature Park and Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary do a great job providing visitors with an unforgettable elephant encounter. Visitors can feed the elephants some of their favourite treats as they are taught more details on each animal that is at the camp and their treatment there. There is also a chance for visitors to bathe the elephants, first in mud, and then in the cool river. It’s the most fun you can have getting close to these amazing creatures while they get to be free and roam.
2.Mae Sa Waterfall Picnic & Swim
There are lots of great waterfalls around Chiang Mai. Our favourite is Mae Sa Waterfall because of how close and easy it is to get to from town. It’s really an underrated attraction. You will not see many (maybe any at all) tourists here, but it can get a bit busy on the weekends with locals. Regardless of when you go, there are ten levels to choose from so you can pick a nice quiet location to chill out.
It’s a great place for a hike and not very difficult, either. We highly recommend getting some food and snacks from the vendors at the base of the waterfall before you go up. You can easily find some great picnic spots with fantastic views of the waterfall. Of course, you want to make sure to take your swimsuit so you can go for a refreshing dip in one of the many natural pools at this waterfall.
3.Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
There are a couple of different ways to enjoy a visit to this majestic and beautiful temple on the hill. Some prefer to ride up on a motorbike and enjoy the 45-minute scenic route. Those who don’t feel comfortable driving, can hire a Songthaew (red truck) for a few hours and get a ride up and back. The truck will usually wait a couple of hours, or you can take one up and another down if you decide you want to stay on the temple grounds for a longer period.
Whichever way you get up Doi Suthep, you’ll be able to enter the temple and experience some Buddhist practices, marvel at the structures, and then enjoy some fantastic views of Chiang Mai City afterward from the outer grounds.
4.See Temples In The Old City
There are over 30 temples in the Old City alone! Okay so you don’t have to see all, but we suggest our two favourite (and most popular) temples in the Old City, which are Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh. If you are staying in or near the Old City Moat, these two temples are easy to walk to. They are both very large and impressive. You may need about an hour to stroll around each temple.
Though most temples are free to get into, there is a nominal fee to enter Wat Chedi Luang. To see the 15th-century chedi at the centre alone is worth the entrance fee, not to mention all of the other magnificent structures, temples, gardens and statues. This is also the temple where Monk Chats take place. It’s a great cultural exchange opportunity where you can sit down with novice monks and their teachers and ask them questions.
5.Go To The Famous Markets
With a plethora of options, you won’t have an issue finding some markets to visit while in Chiang Mai. Of course, there are the Saturday and Sunday Night Markets that are huge, and sometimes a bit overwhelming. The Night Bazaar and Warorot Market are quite extraordinary experiences as well. Nevertheless, there is more to the markets in Chiang Mai than shopping for elephant patterned pants and handicraft souvenirs.
You can find some tasty treats to indulge in as you make your way through the stalls lining the closed off streets. If you’re not a foodie and have done all the shopping you can do, well, then they’ve got massages, too! Sit back, relax, and people watch as you get a nice foot rub right there at the market.
6.Bo Sang Umbrella Factory
The quiet and laid-back village of Bo Sang is the perfect place to shop for souvenirs. The handicraft items here are priced fairly, and purchases can sometimes be arranged to get shipped, eliminating the hassle of having to pack things in your luggage.
Bo Sang is most famously known for the handmade parasols, decorated and painted colourfully. These umbrellas can be seen all over this little town, decorating the shops and streets. You can see the artisans creating these beautiful works of art and get one of their masterpieces to take home with you!
7.San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
Going to the hot springs near Chiang Mai is a refreshing and soothing treat. San Kamphaeng Hot Springs is a popular spot for locals, so make sure to avoid going on the weekends if you want to have the place more to yourself.
You can spend the day enjoying a peaceful picnic and dipping your feet into the channels of hot spring water to soothe your muscles. Additionally, there are private rooms with tubs, if you prefer to lay in the spring water and have your entire body treated to a hot bath. There is also a swimming pool that contains the spring water. Whichever way you choose, there’s a good chance you will end the day feeling nice and relaxed.
8.Walk Up The Sticky Waterfall
Most waterfalls tend to provide a beautiful show of cascading water that can be enjoyed from below or admired from far away. This unique waterfall in Chiang Mai, however, gives you the option to climb it! Yes, you can easily start from the bottom and make your way up most of it right through the middle of the falling water.
Due to the nature of the rocks building this waterfall, you will not be experiencing the typical slippery surface but one that feels “sticky” as you step on it. The porous rocks help “hold” your feet so you can climb against the running water.
9.Eat The Best Street Food
Thailand offers some of the best cuisines in the world, and the best part is, you can find it all around Chiang Mai, at virtually any stall around town. No reservations required and no fuss made, the street food will blow you away.
Chang Puak or “North Gate” stalls as well as the South Gate food stalls are a great place to start. Some of our recommendations would be pad Thai, fried chicken with sticky rice, papaya salad, chicken and basil, pork noodle soup, and the Northern Thai speciality, khao soy.
10.Get A Massage
It’s hard not to notice the availability of massage places around Chiang Mai. No visit to Thailand is complete without experiencing a true Thai massage. You’ll have no difficulty finding a great place to get a cheap massage in any area of the city of Chiang Mai.
While a Thai massage can be quite intense (there’s a lot of stretching involved!), it can leave you feeling like you just got out from a Chiropractic session. If you’re not that keen on a lot of movement during your massage, try a hot oil massage for an hour. In fact, massage is super cheap so why not try one of each?!
About The Authors
Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. We set off to live a life in as many places as possible. To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it. Our journey started in Thailand with the two of us and our cat, Milton. We’ll see where life will take us next! Follow on our footsteps on our blog Together in Thailand.